…and they’re right

I first thought of these stores as convenience stores. They sell the necessities, and they’re open later than their less-convenient cousins. Večerka is what people call them, večer meaning night. In the end they are not like your local 7-11, however. They close at noon on Saturday just like everyone else, and stay closed until Monday morning.

Still, after I tromp home in the evening the little store down the hill from me is a welcome sight. They actually have a refrigerator with beers in it, ready to drink. They have a bottle opener by the cash register. They have guys standing around drinking. No sir, not your typical 7-11. It’s a bar with a deli counter and no tables and no rest room. Maybe I’ll elaborate on that in another episode. There’s a park across the street. Maybe I won’t elaborate.

It’s a family business, as so many businesses still are here. The demise of the family business is directly connected to the rise of the automobile. If people didn’t have cars, WallMart would die. Think about that the next time you drive to vote against a box store.

Um, where was I? Right. The little shop down the hill. If the store has a name, I don’t know it. Shops here are labeled by what they sell. The big sign across the front of the shop reads “Potraviny”. So does the sign on the shop two doors down. But that, I think, is another episode. It was a nice night; I had walked the last couple of miles home. Home, however, was a place with little food and no beer. A visit to the večerka was in order. I walked in and there was a pair of drinkers there, leaning against the ice cream cooler. The store’s owner, who I don’t see as often as her mother, was in charge. She was speaking with another woman who had a smallish, well-groomed dog.

I stepped in and greeted everyone, as is the custom here. The dog snapped around and watched me carefully. It was not aggressive, just alert. I went over and introduced myself to the pup, giving him a sniff and rubbing his ears. I spoke gently and had a new buddy. He was a good little guy. He was also standing in front of the beer fridge. “Pardon, pardon,” I said to him as I opened the fridge door. It was that, I think, that won over the pup’s owner. She laughed and said something to the shop owner, giving me a warm smile.

I grabbed a couple of Gambrinuses and also successfully asked for some salami. (An aside – there are stores here that make a big deal about being self-service, but most places you have to ask for what you want. Some stores don’t even display much of their inventory, except perhaps in the windows outside. You pick out what you want before you walk in. Toasters, phones, cookware, it doesn’t matter. People just know where to go to get what.) There were different sorts of salami, and as she gestured between them I said, “To nevadi.” It doesn’t matter. It didn’t matter to me, but more than that I had uttered the cornerstone of Czech philosophy. It doesn’t matter. The beer came to thirty crowns, including deposit, the sausage was twenty. She had rung up the beers before the sausage adventure; she punched in the twenty, the register flashed fifty total. I handed her one hundred, and she gave me eighty change.

Apparently “You have given me too much change” is a phrase so unutterable here that no amount of sign language, no pointing to the green glowing 50 on the register while pushing back the extra thirty crowns made any sense to her. Finally one of the drunks behind me said “dzbrnpl frnzlp padesat frnplzt.” Padesat is fifty. She lit up with recognition, reclaimed the money, and thanked me sincerely several times by the time I packed up and left. She wanted to make sure that it was more than just a casual “thanks.” It was a little embarrassing. When you first come to stay here, you will often hear about the reserved nature of the czechs. Maybe that’s why I fit in. They may be reserved, but I’m reserveder.

So I left, wishing all a good night, as is the tradition here, carrying slightly warmer looks from the shopkeeper, the dog, the dog’s owner, and even the drunks.

5 thoughts on “…and they’re right

  1. An great, and typical episode. The kind of “journaling” that makes such a readable blog. I wonder how you keep doing it with so little direct feedback on the episodes. Frankly, I couldn’t do it. Not wouldn’t, but couldn’t. I would need more applause from the readership, per episode. Maybe that’s what makes a good writer – he/she does it for himself, and if someone else enjoys, well…that’s merely frosting.

    I saw a recent TV something-or-other about the man who founded Piggly Wiggly grocery stores. Apparently he was the first to invent the self serve format of our typical grocery store. Before him, you went to the general store, and asked for everything, which a clerk dutifully retrieved and put in your box. I wonder who invented the end-of-aisle display. They get me everytime. I go into a store for lightbulbs and toilet paper, then I walk by that pernicious EOAD; “Oreo stuffed marshmallows with bacon bits! Whoa, I gotta try those!” $50 later…

  2. Hi Jess,

    I agree that this was another marvelous (simply m-a-r-v-e-l-o-u-s) episode. I particularly like the coining of the word reserveder. Frankly, I don’t believe Jer would have invented it if he were still living in the U.S. of A.

    The EOAD are actually called “end caps”, and they are among the most lucrative pieces of real estate in grocery stores. The stores charge suppliers big bucks for the priviledge of depositing their Oreo stuffed marshmallows with bacon bits there.

  3. Hi Jess,

    I hope not! It would be difficult for the new MOH to be reserveder than the last few and also have a pulse.

    Perhaps we need a conclave of all the pervious MOHs to vote on a new one.

    How could we do colored smoke in the blogosphere?

  4. Some things I noticed on this recent, all-too-short trip:

    Dogs understand all the sweet-mum-mum “ohh, what a good boy you are!” stuff no matter what language you are speaking.

    Whining small children are just as irritating no matter what language they are whining in.

    Music is indeed universal. We saw the same pair of Japanese tourists at both the Smetana and Dvorak museaums, and had we made it to the Mozart museum, I’m sure we would have seen them there. We all sat in the listening rooms of both museums, soaking in the spirit of the music, dropping the hectic gotta-get-on mood for at least a time.

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